World Wilderness Congress Opens with Conservation Grants

PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa, November 2, 2001 (ENS) - One of the largest wilderness areas in South Africa will benefit from $US1 million in conservation funding, delegates to the 7th World Wilderness Congress in Port Elizabeth heard today.

Dr. Walter Lusigi of the World Bank's Global Environment Facility (GEF) announced the grant to conserve the Baviaanskloof area on the opening day of the week long gathering.

The Baviaanskloof is a wilderness area situated on the eastern border of the Cape Floral Kingdom, some two and a half hour's drive from Port Elizabeth. In announcing the grant, Dr. Lusigi called the area one of "notable biological diversity and historical importance."

"It has over thousands of years sheltered the San people, and today provides ecological services to major industrial areas of the Eastern Cape. Moreover it is the site of wilderness experience programs operated by the Wilderness Foundation and the Wilderness Leadership School, both for poor urban youth, as well as for members of the Environmental Portfolio Committee of the South African Parliament," he said.


Rare high altitude protea in the Baviaanskloof. (Photo courtesy Mountain Club of South Africa)
The grant was awarded in addition to $15.93 million in GEF grants already announced to support nine projects in South Africa including conservation of the Drakensburg Mountains, the Cape Floral Kingdom, Addo Elephant reserve and the Agulhas Conservation area.

One of the attractions of the Baviaanskloof area is its exceptionally high landscape diversity, according to Ross Zietsman of the Friends of the Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area, a group associated with the Wilderness Foundation of South Africa.

The geology displays huge sandstone cliffs with bedding planes and massive folding. This diversity supports a large variety of plants, including over 1,100 species in 12 vegetation types.

Visitors will see animals of all kinds including kudu, bushbuck, eland, klipspringer, monkeys and baboons. Over 300 species of birds have been recorded, including large raptors such as the black eagle.

Dr. Lusigi also announced a US$1 million grant to Angola for animal repopulation of the war torn country. "The GEF is moving to assist current conservation efforts to rehabilitate the Angolan parks through sharing of animal populations in South Africa and Angola. The GEF will support a $1 million effort being undertaken jointly by the Government of Angola, UNDP and the Kissama Foundation," he said.


Klipspringer, one of the animals found in the Baviaanskloof area (Photo courtesy Dierentuin.Net)
GEF's executive director, Mohamed El-Ashry, was not present, but Dr. Lusigi read a message from him that recalled how the GEF itself owes its origins to the 4th World Wilderness Congress, which was held in Colorado in 1987.

"It grew out of the wisdom and concern of a few visionary and selfless individuals - notably environmental thinkers, businessmen and economists," El-Ashry's said in his statement. "Over the last 10 years, the GEF has grown to be the principal partner of countries in taking real action to achieve sustainable development, mainly by aligning its portfolio with national biodiversity programs and country priorities."

Dr. Lusigi said the 7th World Wilderness Congress should "be seen in terms of Africa's contribution to the global conservation movement."

The African continent, although currently confronted by various socio-economic challenges, he said, has the potential to contribute to the global conservation movement through its people and through the broad range of rich cultural and natural landscapes.

Africa is currently a recipient of $350 million in GEF grants in support of conservation, second only to Latin this respect.

Since its establishment in 1991, the GEF has allocated more than US$1.3 billion to 446 biodiversity conservation and sustainable use projects in 123 developing countries - the single largest funding worldwide.

These projects have leveraged an additional $1.5 billion in government counterpart commitments and another $1.1 billion in co-financing from bilateral and multilateral agencies and the private sector.